April is Autism Awareness month and as we approach the end of the month and are moving more deeper into Spring, we are going to take some time to discuss good ways to use community outings to work on a variety of skills needed for children diagnosed with Autism. The prevalence of Autism is growing at rapid speeds. At this point statistics show that 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with Autism (autismspeaks.org
). Therefore, it is becoming more and more common. We almost all know at least one child, either our own or those we work with, that have been affected by this disorder. And these children should be part of the many day-to day community activities that are available for children. However, the struggle comes when we are worried about how the child will behave, how he or she will be accepted, and whether or not the child will fully be able to participate. These factors, as well as many others need to be taken into consideration when trying to choose the right activities. And whether you are a parent, therapist, aide, or teacher, you will know the child's capabilities and what will and will not push him or her over the edge.
So, let's just walk through a few common community activities and highlight the benefits of the activities, as well as some strategies to help you work through them. Part of being a parent is being prepared whether or not your child has any special considerations. So that means, read the cues of your child. Make sure tummies are filled, you are not nearing a nap time, and always be prepared with those items of comfort whatever they may be. Not many children do well when they are anxious in situations. That also means, you need to make sure you are geared up properly. You need to be able to give your child the attention he or she may need, not be overloaded by other stressors or to dos in your life, and be available to your child...meaning "turn off" the technical world for the moment.
As a therapist, I feel that the local playground is a wonderful place to get started. Not only does it provide a lot of opportunities to work on your sensory diet activities for proprioceptive and vestibular input, it also adds in a variety of visual and auditory input as well. Playground equipment is great for working on motor planning and coordination skills. It also allows children the ability to work on turn taking, interaction with other children, and direction following from you. If the area becomes too crowded and overwhelms him or her, before just packing the car and leaving try to stay in the vicinity and take a walk, have a snack or play ball in a grassy area. This way, you are not immediately leaving and it gives your child the opportunity to head back to the playground when he or she is ready. As always, provide your child with the proper verbal cueing needed to work through the interacting with other children.
Swimming is another wonderful therapeutic activity that provides a wide variety of input needed for children. From the proprioception provided by the water, to direction following, motor planning and coordination, the pool is another great place to take your child as long as they are not fearful of water. If that is the case, start with baby steps. Work in your own yard with a child size pool, explore the wide range of swimming aids available on the market, and let your child proceed at his or her own comfort level. When introducing your child to the community pool, try and pick times when it is less crowed. Also, be patient and help your child feel safe.
Going to the zoo is another one of those places that provides children the ability to work through crowds, but has with interaction with other children. With a bit of planning ahead, you can work on map skills, planning, and sequencing by using the zoo's website and mapping out your course. This is a great way to let your child know what it going to be happening. And unlike many other community activities, the zoo is great at providing a variety of olfactory input! In addition, a day at the zoo works on endurance as you and your child trudge through the park. Take a wagon along for your lunch needs, and you have instant heavy work available for your child.
Trying to get your child involved in a summer camp or sports team is not out of the question. Not only are there many available these days that are geared towards children with special needs, but for those higher functioning children, it is ideal to try and get them to work and play with typical peers. Camps often provide a wide range of experiences from hiking, to crafts, to games, and so on that are provided with the ongoing interaction of other children. In regards to sports teams, find something of interest to your child. This will help in the motivation department. Sports are great for learning turn taking, direction following, working as a team, and working on your child's frustration level.
As always, you need to put your child first. Therefore, make sure you are choosing activities and places the will provide just the right challenge for your child, without putting him or her over the edge. By allowing your child to participate in community activities, you are also providing them the ability to view and follow the examples of other children, sometimes this may be good or bad. But often times, based on their school set up, they may not always have this opportunity so, using the summer to work on it is a great time! So, get out there and enjoy what your community has to offer!